The Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has decided to accept 1 million doses of a Chinese vaccine, reversing his decision to only accept vaccines approved by the World Health Organization.
Hun Sen took to Facebook on Friday and released an audio recording saying China would provide one million doses of the Chinese-developed Sinopharm vaccine. The government would be able to inoculate around 500,000 people in the country.
“Previously, I said that we will only accept assistance or buy any vaccines that are recognized by World Health Organization but WHO has not recognized a vaccine from any country or company so far,” said Hun Sen.
Hun Sen said in December that he would only accept vaccines approved by the WHO and that the country would wait to receive vaccines from the global COVAX Facility, which would give Cambodia inoculations for 20 percent of the population.
To justify his change of heart, Hun Sen said other countries were already using the Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines and that he decided that Cambodia could not wait any longer for a vaccine. He said the increasing number of cases of migrant workers with COVID-19, who were returning from Thailand, was another reason he decided to take the vaccine offer.
“We received information that Malaysia and Philippine will use this vaccine too,” Hun Sen said, adding that countries in Africa and Latin America were also using the Chinese vaccine.
He added the government was open to receiving donations or purchasing more vaccines from other countries, as long as they were affordable and could be easily transported and stored in Cambodia.
China is developing at least four vaccines, including those from Sinovac and Sinopharm. Sinovac can be stored and transported at regular fridge temperatures, much like the Oxford University AstraZeneca vaccine, and experts say will likely be used to vaccinate large parts of the global population.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines requiring much colder temperatures for storage, as much as negative 70C for the Pfizer vaccine, and will unlikely be used in many developing and least developed nations.
While claiming that frontline workers will receive the vaccine first, Hun Sen said on Sunday that he will be the first to get inoculated, as well as those around him.
“To build trust in this vaccine and push the anti-COVID-19 movement, I would like to announce that I will be the first person to be injected with this vaccine” said Hun Sen.
Hun Sen confirmed that the vaccination will be free of charge and administered on a voluntary basis
Or Vandine, a Health Ministry spokesperson, declined to comment and said prime minister’s speech was clear enough to answer reporters’ questions.
Cambodia had registered just 439 COVID-19 cases as of Sunday, with none dead and 385 recovered.
In Kin is the deputy director of Techo Sen Samrong High School in Oddar Meanchey province, which has been converted into a quarantine center for migrant workers returning from Thailand. He supported the use of the Chinese vaccine because other countries were already using it.
“I think that it is good when other countries have used it effectively,” Kin said. “If other countries dare to use this vaccine, I also dare to use it.”
Moeun Tola, who heads labor rights group Central, said it was unclear why the prime minister would reverse his recent stand on which vaccine to use.
“I want the government to seek any vaccines that are good quality,” Tola said. “It is important if it was verified by WHO, whether the vaccine belongs to China or England, that is not the problem.”